Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 96   |   6 October 2016 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 1146

Estimate: 300'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 240'000 CHF Price realized: 400'000 CHF
Greek Coins
Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt. Ptolemy IV Philopator, 221-204 BC Octodrachm, Sidon circa 202-200 BC, AV 27.80 g.
Description Diademed and draped bust r. Rev. ΠTOΛEMAIOY – ΦIΛOΠATOPOΣ Eagle standing r., with closed wings, on thunderbolt; in r. field, ΣΩ / ΣI. References
Bank Leu Auction 52, 15 May, 1991, lot 136 (these dies) Condition
Of the highest rarity, only two specimens known, and among the most spectacular gold Greek coins in existence. A magnificent portrait work of very skilled master engraver perfectly struck in high relief, a real masterpiece of Hellenistic art. Almost invisible marks, otherwise Virtually as struck and almost Fdc Provenance
Numismatic Fine Arts sale XXV, 1990, 285
Ira & Larry Goldberg sale 72, 2013, 4111
The Hunter collection
This extremely rare and intensely desirable octodrachm represents the pinnacle of Hellenistic portrait coinage although it was struck in connection with what was probably the greatest crisis for the Ptolemaic kingdom since its founding by Ptolemy I Soter (323-283/2 B.C.). Ptolemy V, known as Epiphanes, came to the throne at the young age of five when his father, Ptolemy IV, died. He was under the control of a cabal of ministers and courtiers, who already exercised excessive influence under his debauched father and who, upon Ptolemy IV’s death, immediately did away with his popular mother, Arsinöe III. This situation left the Ptolemaic kingdom in a precariously weak state, which the Antigonid Macedonian and Seleucid kings, Philip V and Antiochos III, plotted to use to their advantage. In 205 B.C., they agreed to divide the Ptolemaic possessions outside Egypt between them and while Philip V began attacks in Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands, Antiochos III embarked upon the Fifth Syrian War. Despite some early success in defending Phoenicia against Antiochos III, the total defeat of the Ptolemaic army at Panion in 201 B.C. guaranteed the successful Seleucid conquest of the region. Phoenicia was never again a Ptolemaic possession until Mark Antony presented (or sold) it to Cleopatra VII (51-30 B.C.) in what has become known as the Donations of Alexandria. Impressive gold denominations struck at Ptolemaic mints in Phoenicia were normally connected to preparations for war with the neighboring Seleucid kingdom (i.e. the dated issues of the Third and Fourth Syrian Wars) and the present octodrachm is no exception. It appears to have been struck at Sidon shortly after the intentions of Antiochos III became clear, apparently in order to fund defensive works and the massing of troops in the region on the eve of the Seleucid invasion. The mint is indicated by the ΣΙ mintmark in the right field of the reverse. The letters ΣΩ below the mintmark is commonly described as the signature of Sosibios, the chief Alexandrian minister under Ptolemy IV and at the beginning of that of Ptolemy V. However, Sosibios was deposed by his colleague Agathokles already in 203/2 B.C., that is, before the gold Ptolemy IB portrait series was struck. Thus the letters ΣΩ cannot stand for Sosibios and must refer to a different individual. The choice of types employed on this coin strongly suggests the dire situation in which the Ptolemaic kingdom found itself. The obverse of this octodrachm features a stunning portrait of Ptolemy IV in the best Hellenistic style and executed by a true master of the ancient engraver's art. The fine treatment of the king's facial features has led to the suggestion that they visually express his dissolute character, but this sort of interpretation has been strongly criticized in recent years for its basis in stereotype. The king is clearly not intended to appear foppish here: an unseen wind blows out the ends of his diadem giving him the air of a man of action, completely fearless and at ease when about to charge into the midst of the storm. Indeed, it is largely for this reason that Ptolemy IV appears on this issue of his young son and successor. His image serves not only to advertise the legitimacy of young Epiphanes in the face of his enemies, but perhaps more importantly to rally the kingdom around the son of a king who had previously held back an invasion by Antiochos III during the Fourth Syrian War (219-217 B.C.). At the head of an army including many untested native Egyptians, Ptolemy IV had defeated Antiochos III in an epic battle at Raphia, thereby saving the kingdom from conquest. The octodrachm portrait is simultaneously a reminder of that signal victory and an invocation for the deified victor of Raphia to aid the kingdom again in its hour of need. Also suggesting a call for divine protection against the invading Seleucids is the eagle type of the reverse. The eagle standing on a thunderbolt was established as the badge of the Ptolemaic dynasty already under Ptolemy I Soter. It is explained by a dynastic myth in which the child Ptolemy was saved from death by the timely intervention of an eagle serving the will of Zeus, the greatest of the Olympian gods. Since this type was normally reserved for silver issues, it is tempting to see it as having a special soteriological meaning here. Unfortunately, as it turned out, this beautiful golden prayer for protection from an embattled son to his divine father was not answered; Phoenicia and Koile Syria were lost to the Seleucids.

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